A Belarusian court has sentenced former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin to five-and-a-half years in prison. He was falsely convicted of hooliganism and disturbing the peace.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, said, "The entire trial was a politically motivated process designed to punish Kozulin for expressing his political views." The U.S., said Mr. McCormack, "will take steps to impose appropriate sanctions on those responsible for this abuse of a Belarusian citizen's rights."
Mr. Kozulin was arrested for leading a demonstration against the fraudulent March 19th presidential election in Belarus. According to official results, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won more the eighty percent of the vote. But observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote failed to meet O-S-C-E standards for free and fair elections.
In response to the Belarusian government's refusal to honor its democratic commitments, President George W. Bush banned travel to the U.S. by Mr. Lukashenko and his associates. In June, the U.S. imposed financial sanctions on President Lukashenko and nine top Belarusian government officials responsible for undermining the election.
In the meantime, Belarusians continue to defy the government. Recently, police detained some thirty people who staged a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest Russia's support for President Lukashenko. Protesters held up portraits of Belarusians convicted of political offenses and of prominent individuals who have disappeared during Lukashenko's twelve years in power.
Among those detained was opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko. "For me," Lebedko told a news agency, "this was an act of solidarity with those who have suffered under this regime. That list [of those whom suffered]," said Mr. Lebedko, "has been made longer by the conviction of Kozulin. I am expressing solidarity with him, too."
The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus in their aspirations to exercise their democratic rights. President Lukashenko should do the right thing and free Mr. Kozulin and all those being held on politically motivated charges.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.